Join James Williamson for an in-depth discussion in this video The business of web design: Val Head, part of Introduction to Web Design and Development.
- Hi everybody! I am here with designer and consultant, and one of my favorite people, Val Head. Val, so great to see you. - Yeah, great to see you too! Thanks for giving me a call for this. (laughs) - Absolutely, well you know, when I thought about interviewing people for this course, you were one of the first people I thought of. - Aw, that's great. (laughs) - Well yeah, from various stand points, because I've always enjoyed our conversations over the years, and I think you have a unique perspective on the web design industry as a whole because of all the various things that you've done.
If you could, just give everybody a little bit of your background. - Well, I, basically I guess, starting from right now, I run a small web design shop, which is basically me and whichever other developer, a developer that I work with, or a couple of other people, and so I design websites, do a little bit of branding. That's sort of like, my day job. I also teach a lot of workshops on CSS animation and UI animation, and I do the Ladies in Tech podcast with Jenn, and I run a conference called Web Design Day here in Pittsburgh just about every year.
What are some of the things, some advice that you can give those folks, and some of the things that they'll need to learn if that's what they want to do? - Yeah, I think that the biggest thing I would say you need to learn if you wanted to go out on your own and do freelance, is, is like, the delicate people skills. (laughs) And it's the hardest stuff to learn because you don't take classes on that. But when it comes to actually dealing with clients, you know, you need to be able to explain your designs and your design decisions in a way that applies to business and what, or maybe not like, straight-up business, like, you don't have to be like "This typeface will increase your ROI", because-- That doesn't make any sense.
But, like, something that's going to explain the design decisions you made, in like, real English words, to regular people, and why that will actually be a good decision for their goals. And, when you're used to, like, Design School, and talking about everything in terms of like, you know, all these crazy references that you would never know if you hadn't read a Design textbook, and then you're in front of a client and they're like "well, why is this blue?" And, like, that's a totally legitimate question for a client to ask, and your answer can't just be "because it looks good". (laughs) - Right.
- I mean, that might essentially be why, but you have to make it sound better, (laughter) even if that really is why. - You have to be able to give some rationale, right? - Yeah, you need to be able to explain it in a way that makes sense. And I think that a lot of the times, especially if you've been doing design for a while, you kind of internalize all that reasoning, - Uh-huh. - And you might not know why, and you might actually have to like, think about why, but you had a reason, you just like, wasn't, you weren't like, "Okay, I will make this blue because "it matches this brand and color". Like, you just do it. - Yeah. - And, kind of with that, is also some negotiation skills along with those, you know, it kind of fits in with that too.
Because there's always something that, you were like "this is a good idea", it's usually like, a technical thing, or like, a UX thing, or like, "it should go this way", and your client is like "well, I don't know, you know, "I've never done it that way", or like, "My competition does it this way", or, "we've always done it some other way", and being able to like, explain that. And then sometimes, even when you explain these things, and they make total sense to you, and they follow, like, industry best practices, and every other like, right way in the book, your client is still like "no, I don't think so". (instructor laughs) And they usually, hopefully have some reason to say "no".
It's like, you want to be able to negotiate that, and just be like, well, you know, you're going to have to do more than just say "Here's, like, two A List Apart articles "That tells you this is why it's done this way", because, that's not going to be good enough for them. You know, you have to walk them through "why". And then sometimes, you know, you have to give and take. Maybe that one thing that you really wanted to do, this navigation system that you thought would be perfect that they're just like "oh, we're not comfortable with it". Maybe you let that go, and then you can get away with, or, you know, not get away with, not like you're trying to trick them, but -- - Sure. - You could have some other thing that's more important, like it's, there's so much of...
- So part of their job is going to be educating the clients. - Yeah, educating -- - In terms of "This is why we're doing things the way we do things, "these days in web design, and this is how it's going to "improve your business, and this is how "it's going to improve user experience on your site". - Yeah, but and then also, educating in less of a sense of like "do what I tell you "because here's on the internet where it says this is why", (laughs) - Right. - But more of like, you know, cooperative education, of like, "Okay, here's why I think this makes sense, " tell me why you, you know, feel uncomfortable with it", or, you know, it has to be more of a discussion.
I think a lot of the time, when we think about educating clients and presenting stuff, it's just like "here it is, do it my way!" and you know-- - Let's talk for a second about the business-side of things, because I, one of the things I recommend in the resource movie at the end of the course, is Mike Monteiro's Design Is A Job, which is fantastic. He's got a talk that he does "If You Pay Me"-- (laughs) - That is fantastic, if you've ever seen that. But he talks about and stresses the importance of having a contract in place, and what advice would you give freelancers and designers in terms of handling that side of the business? - Oh, definitely always have a contract And, there's a few out there, like a few templates and versions out there that are pretty good, that you can just use pretty much.
I mean, when I started my own business for real, like, I did freelance on the side for a while, and then I had a contract I never really had a lawyer look at. But once I was like "this is my business"-- (laughs) I hired a lawyer to look at my contract-- - Yeah... - And it's not in legalese, it's one of those like, normal-languaged contracts. But I had a lawyer look at it to make sure I wasn't doing anything stupid. (laughs) And one trick I always like for contracts is, is usually do a lot of fixed price bids, I don't know if you got into any of that sort of stuff, but-- - Uh-huh. - I always have some catch of like, it's this, you know, somewhere that it stops, you're like, "This project doesn't include "this list of things and is going to cost "this much, but like, if we get beyond X number "of revisions on a logo, or whatever, - Right.
- "Then you're going to be billed at, you know, "a gazillion dollars an hour", or somewhere reasonable. - Sure... (laughs) - How do you handle scope creep? And, I'm always interested in people, how they handle it, because as a designer, I've had to deal with it before. I know you have to deal with it. What's your personal method for dealing with scope creep, when clients keep coming back to you with things? - By having that in the contract as far as like, number of revisions that are allowed on things. Kind of pointing it in the contract when decisions need to be made as far as a direction goes.
And then once that's made, you're like, "Okay, we made that decision, if we want to change "this later, if we decide this isn't the direction to go, "you know, it's going to be billed "at whatever number of, or whatever amount an hour". - Sure. - And every once in a while you get a situation where you realize, like, it's kind of your call that you need change things, and maybe you don't bill for that. Like there's, it does get a little bit, there's a lot of grey-area. - Right. - But, I try to always have something in the contract that like, limits number of revisions, and say "once we get past two"-- - Right. - You know, "It's going to be this much an hour for further revisions".
And also just talking to them too. Just being like, you know, I did a logo redesign recently and they were like "oh, what if we do this?!" "What if we do that?!" I'm like, "we could go down this, you know, "We could go down this path, and you know -- - Yeah. - Try every one of these and look at it, But, that's going to eat up all these hours and budget you want to put towards your website. So, you know, it's up to you which one is more important. - That's nice, so you're kind of making the case to them that "this is fine, we can do it"-- - Yeah. - But, this is where your budget is going now. - And you know, if they had changed their mind and were like "you know what, we would like to revise "our logo 50 gajillion times instead of having a website", that's a totally, they can make that decision, (laughs) It's their project, it's their money.
They decided that we should probably-- - Yeah. (laughs) - Move ahead with the website. - I bet so. Now, you said something early-on, that I think is very important for people that are going to be freelancing or working on their own, or maybe starting up their own small shop. You said "my shop is me, and the developers "or whoever I need to work with on specific projects". Can you talk about the strength of, or the necessity, I should say, of having a network of people that can help you with your projects? - Yeah, I actually used to say it was me and my cats, but that just , that's not-- (instructor laughs) - Don't tell people that unless you're just trying to be funny.
- Well it basically, like, as one person, you can do small websites all by yourself. - Yeah. - But it takes a really long time, and it kind of sucks to work all by yourself. So, I started partnering with, I found a developer who's actually local a little while ago, or, guess like a year or so ago. He really likes customizing CMSs, he likes doing like, custom back-end stuff. He hates doing front-end, and he hates doing design. I'm like "that's perfect!" - Perfect! - (laughs) I hate doing CMSs! - Yeah, right. - You know you kind of get to a point where you realize there's certain things you're good at, and there's certain things you can do, but they take you hours upon hours upon hours, and you stress yourself out, and you're probably just better to pay someone else.
- Yeah. - So, I originally started working with him once when I was just like "I need someone to do this, "I will pay you hourly to just take-on "this part of the project, I don't want it." And then after that, we actually started bidding on projects together, where i'd be like "hey i'm doing this proposal, "here's what they want, what would you recommend "and how much would you charge?" And it's just so much better to work that way, to work in these small teams you kind of put together on a per-project basis. - Uh-huh. - It's, you get so much more done, and it's just like-- - Now, how does one go about finding those perfect partners? That's the tricky part.
(laughs) - Well I met Ryan, the developer that I work with a lot, I met him just through, like local meet-up friends, and that kind of thing. - Uh-huh. - There's some other groups I work with. I work a lot with Kevin Hoffman, and some other people, and you know, I met him through just, you know, various other conference things, and friends of friends, so, get out there and be social. (laughs) - Get out there network, be social, join the conversation, go to meet-ups, yeah, absolutely. - You never know who, you might meet someone who loves doing all the things you hate (laughs) doing. - That's a good point. - Yeah. It was like, the perfect coffee-date ever, it was like "ahh!".
- This is just such fantastic advice, do you have any final words for anybody that might be learning web design for the first time? Any advice that you want to give them? - I would say, don't get too overwhelmed by things. Because nobody actually knows how to do every single thing, and use every single, I don't even know what you call them anymore, "Frameworks"? - (laughs) Right, yeah. - "Thingamabobs" that we have out there? (laughs) There's so many of them, and it changes everyday, and like, no one knows how to do it all, just, that's, you know, it's, if anyone says they do, they're totally lying.
- Yep. - Learn what you want to learn, and learn at your own, you know, get things done as you go, but don't feel like you have to learn it all, because you never actually can. (laughs) - That is fantastic advice. Thanks Val! - No problem. - And Val actually has two titles in the Lynda.com library that I would recommend everybody go check-out. You've got one on Responsive Typography, right? - Uh-huh. - And your other one is on, is it on CSS animations? - That's right. - Yeah, yeah, that's right. - I think it's even called CSS Animations. (laughs) - Well, yeah (laughs) it may well, there I go, boom, got it, nailed it. Alright, fantastic, well Val, I think we're out of time. Thank you so much for coming in today, and giving us your perspective on things, that was fantastic.
- No problem, thanks for having me. - Alright, see you soon. - Yeah. - Bye!
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- What is web design?
- What is a web designer?
- Learning to code
- Choosing a web host
- Working with a CMS
- Exploring how websites are structured
- Choosing your framework or software
- Designing with standards and accessibility in mind